Per volunteer

* with 100% Employer Matching Program.

25% due upon booking

Balance due by May 15th

8 days

7 nights

6 activity days

A unique opportunity to advance tropical marine research in Panama

MarAlliance invites you to immerse yourself in a once-in-a-life-time experience in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, Panama. Join our team of marine biologists, guides and fishers for an unforgettable week: experience the life of a tropical marine field biologist while helping us collect invaluable data on populations, abundance, density and habitat preference of a range of species of sharks, rays, sea turtles, and other poorly studied marine megafauna.

You will be on the front line of marine megafauna monitoring and contribute to the conservation of these vital inhabitants, while experiencing an unparalleled underwater world. We will train you to be directly involved in each aspect of field work from in-water snorkel surveys that will bring you one on one with Panama’s most exhilarating marine animals, launching baited remote underwater videos, to setting longlines with hands-on work to capture, measure, and tag sharks and rays.

We are excited to have the opportunity to share our findings with you and the field work will be complemented by presentations by our research team during the course of the week.

The Details


Why are marine megafauna important?

Megafauna play an essential ecological role within marine communities, helping to balance and maintain fish and reef populations. Throughout the world these important creatures face multiple threats, and populations are in decline due to overfishing and destruction of their habitat. Knowledge of the diversity and abundance of marine megafauna and how their populations change over time is crucial to managing these populations.

Monitoring through fisheries-independent methods enables researchers and government officials to understand the status of marine megafauna populations and the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas, as well as fill in gaps in our knowledge of their life history including their habitat use and movements throughout their life cycle.

MarAlliance’s work in Panama

With over 1,500 miles (2,500 km) of coastline along the Pacific and Caribbean sides, Panama hosts a wide variety of marine habitats. While fishing is an important source of income for a large number of Panamanians, monitoring the volume of fish caught is almost nonexistent and anecdotal reports suggest declines in fish populations throughout the country. Although few fishers directly target sharks and rays, incidental capture is not uncommon and shark meat can be found in many fish markets.

MarAlliance leads annual monitoring of the marine megafauna at several sites in the Panamanian Caribbean. Less developed and less accessible than the Pacific coast of Panama, the Caribbean coast hosts marine communities that have not been as severely impacted by overfishing as sites along the Pacific coast. Relatively calm and clear water conditions and large areas of coral reef also provide many suitable sites for the use of baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs) and underwater visual census to assess and monitor the populations of large marine wildlife.

September 2021 we will focus our efforts in Bocas del Toro province, located on the Caribbean coast in the northwest corner of Panama, near the border with Costa Rica. The province is made up of mainland communities and the Bocas del Toro archipelago.

Beautiful and abundant Bocas del Toro

There are 240 islands ranging from tiny mangrove islets to Bastimentos Island, which exceeds 100,000 acres (400km2) in size. Isla Colón is the main island where Bocas town is located. The islands are well-known for their pristine waters, secluded islands and abundant primary rainforest. The area is also characterized by two large lagoons: the smaller Almirante and larger Chiriquí. These lagoons are of great importance as they are sheltered from the Caribbean Sea, which helps support and protect populations of marine flora and fauna.

Bocas del Toro’s primary marine conservation site is Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park. This park encompasses a total area of more than 32,000 acres (130 km2), of which more than 28,000 (116 km2) are marine habitats including extensive reef, sea grass beds, and large areas of mangroves. The park was designated in order to protect marine and terrestrial habitats, as well as marine and terrestrial fauna.


Travel and accommodations

You will arrive at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City and spend one night enjoying the country’s vibrant capital before catching an hour-long flight to Isla Colón, Bocas del Toro from Albrook International Airport.

Once you arrive on Isla Colón, you will be greeted by a representative from the hotel who will transfer you by boat to the neighboring Bastimentos Island and your accommodations for the next 6 days, Casa Cayuco. This beachfront eco resort is located on the eastern side of Isla Bastimentos right next to the National Park. With views of the beautiful Zapatilla Cayes in front and lush rainforest behind, the off-the-grid lodge is a perfect base for conducting our monitoring activities in the coral reefs and lagoons nearby.

The rooms at Casa Cayuco are unique open-air beachfront and jungle cabins with covered porches to be able to enjoy your tropical surroundings. Design and comfort are the focus of every cabin, which include either queen or twin beds and a private bathroom. All beds are fitted with high-end, gel-top memory foam mattresses, made for tropical environments. All cabins come with USB charging ports and high powered ceiling fans. Your stay at Casa Cayuco includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. The cuisine is Panamanian-American fusion sourced with the freshest ingredients.

Casa Cayuco


Your objective is to assist MarAlliance’s Panama-based shark and ray research team to monitor large marine wildlife around the Bocas del Toro archipelago. To prepare for your trip and help us collect the most valuable data we will provide you with materials in advance to assist you with species identification and size/distance estimation. On your first days in Bocas and Bastimentos Island, we will hold training sessions to review the methods and fine-tune your size and distance estimation skills (on land and in the water).


Species identification of sharks, rays, turtles and piscivorous fish

Identifying marine megafauna by species is an important part of assessing biodiversity. Species ID will be used during in-water visual transects and in analyzing baited remote underwater videos recordings. We will further ask you to familiarize yourself with species prior to the trip to improve species identification in the field.

In-water visual transect

Transects are a non-invasive method for assessing diversity and relative abundance of marine megafauna. Each transect involves four swimmers positioned in the water and spaced 15 meters apart. Each transect is 1km in length and throughout the transect each swimmer is responsible for recording species, quantity, distance estimation, and size estimation for the sharks, rays, turtles, and piscivorous fish they see within their area.

You will learn species identification and size estimation techniques to accurately record data. Following field work you can help to transcribe data to provide indices of species diversity, abundance, demographics, and size frequencies according to the different habitats sampled.

Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV)

BRUVs are structures made out of PVC pipe or metal that contain a GoPro camera and an extended arm with a bait cage. BRUVs are deployed at various sites around the archipelago for at least 60 mins at a time in order to record species that are attracted to the bait.

These videos are later analyzed to record the species and relative number of individuals and assess diversity and relative abundance. We will collectively review videos taken during the day and annotate these to record target species and frequency of occurrence.

Longline capture and tagging of sharks and rays

Scientific longlining is another method to assess shark and ray diversity and abundance, especially over long periods of time.

This technique involves setting a line of 50 baited hooks in order to capture individuals and collect more specific measurements, tag the animal with a marker that will identify them in future captures or sightings, and collect a tissue sample for DNA and contaminant analysis.

A commonly practiced method within MarAlliance, this will be our 3rd year using longline in Panama. You will assist with baiting and setting the longline, collecting environmental data, and will learn proper handling techniques for safely tagging and releasing sharks and rays.

OPTIONAL (price not included): Afternoon, local dive at one of the islands many dive sites.

*Please let us know in advance if you will be interested in diving one afternoon during the expedition. We will be more than happy to arrange diving activities once we arrive on the island (through Bocas Dive Center).

Bocas del Toro, Panamá

 September 28-October 5th, 2019

Day 1

September 28






Arrival in Panama
International flight arrival to Tocumen International Airport (PTY), Panama
Transfer to hotel in Panama City for overnight stay

Recommended hotel:

  • Albrook Inn is located only 1km from Albrook International Airport

Pre expedition dinner with Dr. Rachel Graham and overview of the research and the week ahead

Day 2

September 29

Breakfast and morning on own in Panama City. Suggested activities:

  • Panama Canal: Miraflores locks and museum
  • Hiking in the Metropolitan Park
  • Walk along the Cinta Costera or Amador Causeway
  • Visit the Fish Market


Lunch with expedition team and MarAlliance founder/Executive Director, Dr. Rachel Graham.


Taxi transfer to Albrook International Airport (PAC)


Flight to Isla Colón, Bocas del Toro


Boat transfer to Bastimentos Island and Casa Cayuco


Check in/rest


Review of field work methods and fieldwork timetable


Dinner with research crew, meet the team
Presentation – Dr. Rachel Graham, Executive Director, MarAlliance

Day 3

September 30


Breakfast at Casa Cayuco


Size estimation exercises on land and in water, Review of species ID, survey
Methods and data collection. (recap of previous evening’s presentation)


Lunch at Casa Cayuco


Training: in-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles
Baited remote underwater video surveys, and shark monitoring


Dinner with team


Presentation – Megan Chevis, MSc., Panama Coordinator

Night shark work and/or review of BRUVs, data entry

Day 4

October 1

Note: Participants will be divided into three groups (A, B, C) to personalize the experience and to ensure space on the boats; each group gets the opportunity to rotate through the different monitoring techniques.




In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group A)
Baited remote underwater video surveys (Group B)
Shark monitoring (Group C)


Lunch at Casa Cayuco or in the field


In-water surveys for sharks, rays, and turtles (Group A)
Baited remote underwater video Surveys (Group B)
Shark monitoring (Group C)


Dinner with the team


Night shark work and/or review of baited remote underwater videos, data entry

Day 5

October 2




In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group B)
Baited remote underwater video surveys (Group C)
Shark monitoring (Group A)


Lunch at Casa Cayuco or in the field


In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group B)
Baited remote underwater video surveys (Group C)
Shark monitoring (Group A)


Dinner with the team


Night shark work and/or review of baited remote underwater videos, data entry

Day 6

October 3




In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group C)
Baited remote underwater video surveys (Group A)
Shark monitoring (Group B)


Lunch at Casa Cayuco or in the field


In-water surveys for sharks, rays and turtles (Group C)
Baited remote underwater video surveys (Group A)
Shark monitoring (Group B)


Dinner with entire team


Night shark work and/or review baited remote underwater videos, data entry

Day 7

October 4




In-water surveys for sharks, rays, and turtles (Group A)
Baited remote underwater video Surveys (Group B)
Shark monitoring (Group C)


Lunch at Casa Cayuco or in the field


In-water surveys for sharks, rays, and turtles (Group A)
Baited remote underwater video Surveys (Group B)
Shark monitoring (Group C)


Dinner with the team


Summary of week’s activities by team and participants
Wrap-up party

Day 8

October 5




Check-out from hotel, boat transfer to Isla Colón


Flight from Isla Colon to Tocumen airport, where you will catch your international flight home
International flights should be booked for after 2pm

If you wish to stay and enjoy Bocas del Toro, transfer to Panama City or any other location in Panama for an extended stay, we would be happy to assist you!

Agenda may be subject to change

Travel tips

  • The official currency of Panama is the Balboa. The exchange rate between balboas and US dollars is 1:1, and dollars are used as the main form of currency.
  • Electrical outlets are the same as in the United States and typically 120V/60Hz.
  • The local time is 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT – 6), and there is no time change during the year.
  • If you plan on using your cell phone, standard roaming charges will apply and rates will be carrier dependent. Most restaurants, hotels and bars are equipped with Wi-Fi that is free for paying customers.
  • In most of the country, including Panama City, tap water is safe to drink. On the islands in Bocas del Toro we will provide filtered water for you to fill your water bottles.

Skills requirement

  • Comfortable in small boats in open water
  • Confident swimmer
  • Comfortable snorkeling for 20-50 minutes at a slow-moderate pace


Safety is our top concern and MarAlliance has an emergency plan for each of our field work sites throughout Panama. All boats carry basic first aid kits and a more comprehensive kit will be held at the hotel.

Emergency contacts for Isla Colón

Bocas del Toro Hospital: Tel. 011-507-757-9201
Police: Tel. 011-507-757-9217, 011-507-757-9485
Air Panama: Tel: 011-507-757-9841

What to bring

If you need any of the below items, you can help sharks and rays by choosing MarAlliance as your nonprofit on Amazon Smile. Amazon donates a few cents from each purchase to help us to conduct research, education and conservation for sharks and rays and fight for these awesome animals. It all adds up and it really makes a difference. Thank you for your support!

For the sun and sea








Swim wear (at least 2 suits), for women: quick dry shorts




Lycra bodysuit/pants

socks site

Water socks


Hand coverage

* Make sure your sunscreen is coral/reef safe and doesn’t contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, 4-MBC and the common preservative butylparaben, all of which kill coral.
** Polarized are recommended as they cut down the glare on the water.
*** We will have these for sale too (The tropical sun is strong; full coverage is important)



2-3 T-shirts


2-3 pairs of shorts


One long-sleeved shirt and one pair of long pants *


1 large regular towel (if you have space)


Large quick dry towel


Pareo or wrap

* To take out on the water in case you start getting too much sun



Mask, fins and snorkel (test equipment before arrival)


Rain jacket/poncho (just in case)


Underwater or splash-proof camera/GoPro


Headlamp with rechargeable batteries


Dry sack for keeping camera gear and other items water-free


Re-useable water bottle

Health and wellbeing


Bug spray


Sea-sick? Dramamine or meclizine**


Own medicines


Snacks, e.g. hard candy‡


Books to read

‡ Always good to have following the snorkel transects

**Bring a supply of Dramamine or meclizine to ensure you are comfortable while out at sea.


  • Hiking boots/clothes in case you want to hike the trails on down time. 
  • Fleece or light jacket for the cooler nights or if there’s a lot of rain
  • Enough money to cover your time before and after Bastimentos Island. $300-400USD should be more than enough if you won’t be staying in Panama after the expedition.

Can we invite others not working with our company (e.g., significant other, family member, friend)?

Yes! Note, however, that the quoted trip cost is made possible by your company’s 100% donation matching. Non-company employees would pay the quoted trip cost AND ask to make a donation for the same amount (in other words, their total cost would be 2x the company cost).*A prospective volunteer pointed out that if he pays for both himself and his +1, then the entire payment is a donation and should be eligible for matching.

I’m confused by the pricing. Is our company covering part of the trip cost?

The price quoted are the prices that you would pay. MarAlliance is relying on your company’s gift match to cover its total costs, so if you were to sign up for Panama, for example, they are counting on $2990 from you + $2990 from company matching.

Employee $2990
Company gift match* $2990
Total Cost** $5980

*Due to the purely volunteer nature of the trip (not a tourist venture), the price you pay for the trip can be considered a donation to MarAlliance (a nonprofit) and is thus (a) tax deductible; and (b) eligible for 100% gift matching.

**Non-company employees whose companies do not offer 100% gift matching would pay the full, tax-deductible $5980. If you’re bringing a +1 and elect to pay for both trips yourself, the full donation should be eligible for gift matching.

I’ve already used my full company-gift-matching benefit for 2020. Can I hold a spot?

Yes, you can either elect to forego gift matching (and make a separate donation to cover the incremental match price). Or, you can work with MarAlliance to reserve a spot on your trip of choice and hold payment until January 2021, when you’ll once again be eligible for gift matching. Email

What are the main differences between the four expeditions?

  • Belize – Very remote, on a small island with no cell service or internet. Glamping accommodations in yurt style tents, private cooks, and the focus is on sharks and turtles.
  • Honduras – Located on a sparsely populated island, with all-inclusive (except alcohol) hotel accommodations. Our primary focus in Honduras is on sharks, rays and fish.
  • Panama – All-inclusive (except alcohol) hotel accommodations in a remote area of Isla Bastimentos. Our primary focus is on sharks, rays and fish.
  • Cabo Verde – Accommodations will be Guest house style with field work completed on a catamaran. Our primary focus will be Whale sharks, Manta Rays and sharks.

What is the day to day time allocation of volunteers during the expedition?

Volunteers will spend most of their days in boats, out on the water participating in one of three activities; typically, from 8am until sunset. Data entry & presentations will follow in the evenings.

What can I expect during my time on the expedition?

  • To work side-by-side with MarAlliance staff and local fishermen as part of the expedition team
  • To contribute to critical marine conservation and monitoring/research efforts
  • To learn new skills
  • Learn about marine animals, the reef, the countries culture, politics, and about the local fishermen’s livelihoods
  • Enjoy tropical island life for a week
  • To be well fed and enjoy good company!

What if I might be uncomfortable seeing animals in pain, such as tagging & taking samples of sharks?

The only way we can measure and tag sharks is if we catch them. We minimize our handling time and sharks have little to no feeling in their dorsal fins where we place the tag. By comparison millions of sharks are killed yearly and we are trying to reduce these deaths.

Will time be allocated for an optional dive?


– Diving in Bocas del Toro can be arranged through the Bocas Dive Center located on Isla Colon. Please let us know ahead of time if you are interested in diving during the Panama Expedition.

– Diving in Belize will be on day 2 of the itinerary with Amigos del Mar, who is also taking the team to Half Moon Caye. You may participate in their 3-tank package which includes, The Great Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye Wall and Long Caye Aquarium. We will be happy to make all arrangements for you!

Diving is an optional activity and at the cost of each volunteer. You can expect a 2-tank dive in Honduras and Panama to be around $50-$70US and the Blue Hole trio-$260US. Cost of 2-tank dive in Panama to be around $110US

Can we do a night dive?

No, evenings comprise of data entry and presentations.

Can you accommodate vegetarian meals?

Yes! Most if not all dietary needs can be accommodated.

How many spots are available per expedition & how many spots are left?

Belize, Honduras, and Panama have 10 spots allocated to each. Cabo Verde has 8 spots.

We will update our website to list how many spots are left as they fill up.

Are teenagers welcome?

18+ years

Do I need to buy travel insurance?

Yes, MarAlliance does require participants to have travel insurance, however if your company provides travel insurance you may consider whether coverage is sufficient.

Note: Company provided travel insurance-things to consider

  • Does it cover medical (including evacuation)?
  • Does it provide trip cancellation insurance?
  • Does is cover me on paid leave?
  • Does it cover me on unpaid leave?

Are there other ways I can get involved?

Yes! Whether you join one of the expeditions or not, MarAlliance is always looking for donors to fund satellite tags that will track the migration patterns of sharks, rays and turtles.

  • Amount $3000 (covers 1 sat tag and a portion of the satellite transmission time). You’re welcome to go in on a tag with a group of friends!
  • Donors who fund tags will get to choose a name for the animal tagged and receive daily updates on its movements (tags may remain with animal for weeks, months, even years).
  • Donated tags may be deployed by MarAlliance and expedition volunteers during this years’ expedition.
  • Receive weekly updates

*Donated tags are also tax deductible

Price includes

  • On-site training from our team of expert biologists and research staff
  • Donations, which provides all the resources necessary for our monitoring and research methods and local fisher and boat captain salaries.


  • Double occupancy room for 6 nights at Casa Cayuco
  • Private rooms are not available at Casa Cayuco


  • Round-Trip ground transfers between the Isla Colón Airport and Casa Cayuco
  • Ground transfer from Albrook Airport to Tocumen International Airport upon return to Panama City


  • All meals including full breakfast buffet (including coffee, tea), lunch and dinner. Water will be provided for re-fillable bottles, juice and soda will be provided for breakfast and dinner.


  • Marine conservation fee, and environmental fee when arriving at Bocas airport
  • Swag bag!
  • Unforgettable, once in a life time experience and memories

Price does not include

  • International air (Panama departure tax in included in their airfare)
  • Accommodations and meals and transfers prior to arrival at Casa Cayuco
  • Travel, health or cancellation insurance
  • Round-trip domestic air transfers between Albrook Airport in Panama City and the Isla Colon Airport in Bocas del Toro
  • Personal items and incidentals
  • Alcohol and tips for hotel staff